Emotion ManagementEmotional maturity is not an absence of emotion. It is not the total control of one's emotions so that one is exclusively rational. Emotional maturity means being clear about the personal identity one values, being able to recognize when that identity has been threatened or is being threatened, recognizing and even seeking opportunities to enhance that personal identity -- and having that repertoire of actions and economy of affect that will enable one to construct, protect, or enhance that most valued personal identity. (Morse, 1982)
Most of us are good at learning and remembering facts. We can recite that it is 93,000,000 miles to the sun, recall that our phone number is 555-1234 and name people in our group. Feelings are not so simple or straightforward.
We can have a number of feelings at once, and they can be conflicting. We can have one set of strong feelings on the surface, a sense of uneasiness just beneath our conscious awareness and suddenly have a wave of new feelings that are quite different, and that change how we perceive things or what we experience. For example:
Most of the activities in our waking hours are filled with fleeting and contradictory affective content. Some of it is not so fleeting. It may be two minutes, two hours or two years before Dennis stops thinking about some of the things that occurred in that brief slice of time. Feelings are powerful! There are many feelings that we are glad to have, feelings of acceptance, safety, love. There are feelings that we pursue, spend time, and energy to encourage as part of our lives. There are other feelings that we dislike, that are disquieting or upsetting to us.
Our feelings may be very private things, or they may be events we wish to share with others. Both pursuit and avoidance feelings can be private, or things we wish others to keep to themselves. Dennis is elated about his test scores, but doesn't want others in his group to know, since he is afraid they may tease him or feel envious of his grades. He tells his insurance company about his accident, and how angry he is at the other driver, but he doesn't tell his group anything about his car accident. He thinks he might be in love, but doesn't tell his parents, because they might not approve. He does tell some of the members in the group. He doesn't tell his new love interest about his sore throat, but does tell the teacher about it, and calls group members to say he can't attend because he might make others ill. He has nagging feelings begin to emerge about his scholarship, but decides to ignore them, and hopes the committee won't learn about the course he's flunking until after tuition is paid. One of the members of the group encouraged him to do that and told of a time that worked out for her.
Feelings are transitional episodes that are crucial to our emotional well being. They help us maintain our sense of well being and who we are. They frame us for ourselves, and they give those around us an essence of who we are. Those who are healthy, recognize those feelings, accept that they are occurring and then make decisions about which are helpful and which are potentially destructive.
In group work it is critical to know that we are having feelings -- to be aware, to accept that we feel a certain way. At the same time, we are not captives of our feelings. We have the ability to keep and enhance feelings, or to process and refocus affective messages. We need to know that we are angry, and what the core issue is that produced the feeling of anger, but we also need to remember that we can control anger, transform it or use it to good advantage. We have the same control over our positive feelings. They are strong, and we can utilize them to advance our humanity, our personal development and the well being of our group. (Adapted from Whelan, 1998)